ATLANTA – Scottie Scheffler will need to work overtime if he wants to win the Tour Championship and the FedEx Cup on Sunday.
That’s because play was suspended with only 15 of the 29 players in the field having completed the third round at East Lake Golf Club on Saturday. Scheffler hit his tee shot at 13 into the right rough before play was suspended for the second time that afternoon due to lightning in the area at 6:36 p.m. and later called for the day. Play is expected to resume at 9:45 a.m. ET, and the final round will tee off at 11:15 a.m.
While slightly more than half the field finished their rounds on Saturday and can sleep in, Justin Thomas wasn’t so lucky. He has to get up and come back to the course to hit a 2-foot birdie putt and complete his third round. His eagle effort at 18 from 34 feet was struck just as the horn sounded. If he makes it, he will shoot 7-under 63.
When play was suspended, Scheffler was still 19 under for the tournament, but his two-stroke overnight lead had been trimmed in half by Xander Schauffele. South Korea’s Sungjae Im was 4 under through 14 holes and three strokes back of the lead.
Scheffler stuck in neutral
Scottie Scheffler didn’t move anywhere on Moving Day. He made par on the first seven holes, stretching his par string to 13 holes dating to Friday’s second round. He finally broke the birdie seal at No. 8, knocking a fairway bunker shot to 12 feet and holing the putt.
“Not many guys can pull that shot off, and then to follow it up with the putt…it was so important for Scheffler to make a birdie today before a bogey,” NBC’s Paul Azinger said.
Scheffler tugged his tee shot at the par-3 11th into a greenside bunker and failed to get up and down for his first bogey in 38 holes. He was even for the day and 19 under for the tournament when play was called for the day.
“I wasn’t playing my best, but I was kind of hanging in there,” Scheffler said. I was looking forward to giving myself some opportunities at the end, but then the horn went off.
Azinger noticed that Scheffler didn’t have his best stuff. “You can just tell by the way he’s carrying himself. He’s just trying to hang on. He’s just not dialed in,” he said. “A couple of dicey wedges for a guy who ordinarily, that’s his strength. He’s just hanging in there today, trying to figure something out.”
Schauffele applying pressure
Xander Schauffele tees off on the 2nd hole during the third round of the TOUR Championship golf tournament. Mandatory Credit: Adam Hagy-USA TODAY Sports
With birdies at Nos. 2 and 3 on Saturday, Schauffele grabbed a share of the lead and erased what was a 4-stroke deficit at the start of the tournament in the staggered-scoring leaderboard and what at one point in the second round had grown to an 8-stroke deficit.
But his share of the lead evaporated quickly. Schauffele, who had made only two bogeys in his first 39 holes, made two in a row at the fourth and fifth. But he wasted little time getting back on the birdie bus with two consecutive circles at Nos. 6 and 7.
On the latter, Schauffele fanned his tee shot into the trees, but made a nifty recovery to find the green.
“Openings in the trees to this fella are like catnip,” said NBC’s Roger Maltbie.
For good measure, Schauffele buried the 33-foot birdie putt. He gave the stroke back at No. 11 when he followed Scheffler into the left greenside bunker and couldn’t rescue par.
With six holes to play in the third round, Schauffele is 18 under and trails by one stroke as he bids for his fourth victory of the season and first FedEx Cup title.
Hideki Matsuyama's ball-striking clinic
Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama carded the low round of the day among the finishers, carding eight birdies and a lone bogey on his way to signing for 7-under 63.
Matsuyama was putting on a ball-striking clinic, ranking first in Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green (3.462) and second in SG: Approach the Green (+2.804). Matsuyama started the week at 2 under in the staggered-start scoring and didn’t help his chances by opening with even-par 70. He took 32 putts in the opening round and lost more than a stroke to the field on Thursday. He’s been positive SG: Putting the last two rounds.
On Saturday, Matsuyama rolled in four birdies on the front nine before making bogey at No. 10. He bounced back by making a birdie at No. 11, another at the 13th and finishing his round off with back-to-back birdies. Matsuyama improved to 13 under for the tournament and was in ninth when play was suspended.
East Lake takes a beating
Par is 70 at East Lake Golf Club, but it’s more like 67 the way the top 29 in the field were chewing it up on Saturday before play was suspended. Of the 15 rounds completed on Saturday, only one player failed to break par. Poor Corey Conners signed for 71 but won’t be too poor if he remains in last place – that still pays $500,000.
The scoring average of the 15 completed rounds was 67.33, which is on pace to be the lowest single round average at the Tour Championship. It would break the mark of 67.5 in the first round of the tournament in 2007.